Racial Equality and Incarceration

June 14, 2012

Doug Sanders of The Globe and Mail has an incisive summary of our latest book, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress:

Prison has now supplanted education and welfare as the main social service provided to the disenfranchised. Blacks are seven times more likely than whites to be in prison. It’s self-perpetuating, because imprisonment increases rates of criminality, poverty, educational failure and family breakup.

But Americans do not see these effects. Prisoners don’t appear on the census, the unemployment-rate, educational-attainment records or the voting rolls.

What happens if you include them? That is exactly what Dr. Pettit has done in her new book...

In short, many of the gains in racial equality during the past 20 years are erased completely if you include the full American black population.

The black high-school dropout rate, if you include the population behind bars, is 40 per cent higher than it would be otherwise. That means that "black men have experienced no improvement in high-school completion rates since the early 1990s."

Read Sanders' article, or learn more about Pettit's book.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.